Friday, May 10, 2024

Dairy’s Future Depends on its Relevancy to the Undergrad Class of 2024


The undergrad class of 2024 is the same group of Gen Z that graduated high school in 2020, a year where proms, award ceremonies and walking across the stage to receive a diploma did not happen. Congrats to all the graduates and their parents. We did it! 

To say this group of young adults is cynical is an understatement. They do not trust the adults supposedly adulting this world right now (I do not blame them.) and they will change the way of doing business. They will change our global food systems. 

Their biggest objection will be ultra-processed foods. A federal committee is currently examining the emerging science on industrial made foods. Ultra-processed food intake may be part of the Dietary Guidelines in 2025. And if not that year, I am confident Gen Z will demand it for 2030. 

A new 30-year study published in the British Medical Journal found that people who ate a lot of ultra-processed foods appeared to have a slightly higher risk of premature death. You can read the study HERE.

In the FAO’s National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey published in 2019, Americans were shown to be especially at risk. Ultra-processed foods accounted for 57% of adults’ daily energy intake and 67% among youths in the United States. You can read the study HERE.

Hey, I’m super guilty of having had microwaved chicken nuggets and serving them to my Gen Z sons with mac and cheese and a side of corn…multiple nights in a row.  

I will be driving my University of Illinois graduate home on Monday. I asked for his grocery wish list so the fridge and freezer are stocked. He requested no “ultra-processed foods.” He informed me of the air fryer he bought and his preference for fresh chicken breast and various seasonings. He does not want tater tots or mac and cheese. He prefers fresh potatoes, sweet potatoes on occasion. Wait for it…he also said he now prefers whole milk instead of 2% low-fat. I asked why. It was a convoluted response, but something along the lines of whole milk is more natural. I interpreted that as being less processed.  
This anti-ultra-processed movement is not going away. It is a part of Gen Z’s vernacular. 

Part of the Dietary Guidelines or not, Gen Z is cooking in order to avoid ultra-processed foods. Newly released insight from the Y-Pulse Youth Lifestyle Monitor reports the rising culinary confidence of young people ages 8 to 18 who are becoming discerning diners and self-assured cooks. The report cites food media, chefs, food and nutrition professionals and parents as important influences and delves into the perspectives of Millennial and Gen Z survey participants on cooking at home and dining away from home.

“When we first began studying kids and their eating habits more than a decade ago, favorite foods and treasured family recipes that evoked positive flavor memories were very often attributed to grandparents,” says Sharon Olson, executive director of Y-Pulse. “Today’s food savvy millennial moms are influencing a new generation of kids who are self-assured when it comes to cooking and critiquing food.”

In a recent Y-Pulse nationwide study, the majority of moms of 4 to 17 year old children (94%) said they enjoyed cooking. Cooking is a creative expression for many of those surveyed with 91% agreeing that they enjoy being creative with ingredients in the kitchen. Although they welcomed recipes, 94% said they like following recipe suggestions that allow them to put their own spin on dishes. The research found 74% of modern moms agreed that they like to be challenged in the kitchen. 

In a Y-Pulse survey of 8 to 18 year olds, the majority (85%) reported that a parent in the household prepares most of the meals. Yet, more than half (56%) reported that they enjoy cooking for their family.

The Youth Lifestyle Monitor reports more than half (56%) of K-12 kids are watching the Food Network and “Tasty” style videos for entertainment. Forty six percent said they tried to cook some of the meals they saw on videos and social media platforms and 58% liked to cook for themselves. 

Kids have become more than the audience for cooking shows; they have become the talent. A review of social media platforms shows a growing trend of cooking shows hosted by kids, for kids on various platforms like YouTube, Instagram, TikTok and Facebook. These shows often focus on simple and fun recipes that children can easily follow and recreate at home.

Flavor exploration and reviewing food venues have become popular diversions with consumers of all ages. Young consumers have increasingly taken on the role of influencer as well in today’s food culture expressing their experiences and opinions on social media platforms. 

Successful food industry professionals understand the importance of engaging these discerning young tastemakers in many segments of the food industry. For example, a Y-Pulse survey of school nutrition professionals found 40% offered kitchen tours and 38% had active student advisory panels. 

And then they become parents. Older Gen Z’s, the ones who likely did not walk across the stage for their university diploma, have some very strong opinions about food, according to Culture Bureau, a Los Angeles-based strategic consultancy. 

Gen Z has transformed every part of culture, and the world of parenting is next. As the oldest turn 27 this year, Gen Z will make up the majority of first time parents by 2026— yet most businesses continue to ignore them as head of households and parents, according to Kasi Bruno, founder of Culture Bureau. 

Culture Bureau surveyed 5,000 Gen Z and Millennial parents and found that these young families are redefining cultural norms and setting new benchmarks for brands and marketers. This landmark research reveals that Gen Z parents are navigating parenthood with a blend of traditional values and modern skepticism, influencing everything from housing preferences to social media interactions. They are not only reshaping the landscape of parenting but also consumer behavior, challenging established brands to adapt or be left behind.

The era of the frenemy Instamom influencer is over. Skeptical, Gen Z parents seek authenticity and are changing the face of parenting and influence on social media. Gen Z parents, unlike Millennials, can’t rely on traditional support networks for guidance, so they seek it more often from their partners as they navigate parenthood as the first and only of their friends to have children.

Gen Z parents are less frugal than Millennial parents, but their “worth more” equation is different, with money and mental health on the top of the list of must-know hot topics they want to teach their kids, according to Bruno.

Photo source: The Movie Data Base

“National brands beware,” she says. “Gen Z parents love store brands far more than Millennials.”

Understanding Gen Z is no longer a nice-to-have, but necessary for businesses across categories. 
“The Gen Z parenting wave is here and it’s reshaping the consumer landscape in real-time and in surprising ways,” says Bruno. 

The other night I watched the 1967 movie “The Graduate.” Dustin Hoffman’s Ben character—the university graduate--said, “I am worried about my future. I want it to be different.” 

Some things never change. Young adults always want things to be different. The dairy industry must evolve to meet their wants and needs. 

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